Sunday, 22 February 2009

Desire and shame

Yesterday, I wrote about an experience of desire when I was definitely pre-adolescent. The memory has stayed with me ever since. But, until recently, it was a source of shame - not something that I wanted others to know about. Now, I publish it openly for anyone to read if they are interested. And if they do not wish to read, fine. I would, of course, like my words to be read by thousands. My ego would be very gratified to see hundreds of comments appearing under each post. Fame and celebrity does appeal. But the reality is that my readers can be counted in tens - and some days less than that. But be it one or a thousand who read, I am no longer ashamed of my desire - whether that of the boy or the man now.

This is very recent. Not so long ago, the possibility that a minor sexual indiscretion would be made public caused me for a while to seriously consider suicide. Even though that route did not appeal, my response was to hide in a deep depression. What I did was wrong, but not grievously so - certainly not worth the pain that I caused myself and those who loved me. But I was powerless to be honest because such honesty would entail allowing myself to be seen as human and fallible. The irony is that the act of trying to hide simply increased my fallibility and made it even more plain to others.

This is how shame works. Far from diminishing desire, it distorts it and forces it to manifest in ways that are unhealthy. It is a distorting mirror in which we see our blemishes magnified and our beauty diminished. It is distinguished from guilt because guilt is felt for ones actions whereas shame is about one's very being. It is, if you like, a disease of the soul. My own actions a few years ago were a cause for guilt. They were wrong. But my response was that I was wrong - fundamentally and irretrievably - and that all i could do was try to ensure that no-one saw that. Thus I hid, even from the one I loved best. My desire, I believed, was simply wrong.

"You should be ashamed of yourself!" These words, from the woman with whom I had had a very brief liaison, were enough to trigger a spiral towards despair. I descended and stayed there a long time. Nothing and no-one could truly reach me. I had been ashamed of myself for a long time before she said those words - they merely served to confirm the shame and make it concrete. I felt stripped of all defences and naked to the world. I hid.

What I wanted to hide, however, was not what I had done although that was the effect. What I wanted to hide was the desire that had led to it. I wanted to hide the fact that I was human and subject to desire and that this desire should be made public. Not the act. The desire.

How sick that is! I do not for one moment believe that I am unique in this. In the founding Christian myth, after eating the apple Adam and Eve cover their nakedness and hide. "Who told you you were naked?" is the question asked and one to which there has been a deafening lack of reply. The institutions of the Church have, for the millennia of its pernicious existence, been at pains to ensure that shame continues to rule. In the story of Inanna, the older myth- predating Genesis by a couple of millennia - we see an entirely different message under the apple tree. Look left on this blog. No shame here. No hiding. "She applauded herself". Her vulva is wondrous and so, in other songs, is the penis of her lover, erect and proud. The joys of the bed are hymned - the desire is, in and of itself, sacred.

Which is, undeniably, the actual state of affairs. You, I, all of humanity, is here as a direct result of this desire. If life has any sanctity then what has caused it to be and what sustains must of itself be sacred. If however, life is not intrinsically sacred but a "vale of tears" that must be endured in order to attain "true life", then shame is possibly appropriate. To be incarnate, in this world view, is to be less than perfect. Christianity, despite the contorted logic of many of its theologians has never freed itself of the dualism from which it was born. It is, in fact, Manicheean in effect if not always in doctrine. The world and the flesh unite with the devil in an unholy trinity engaged in a constant war against the holy one of father, son and holy spirit.

And this holy trinity, be it noted, is one from which sexuality is absent. Three males - Pope Benedict has recently reasserted this against such gender neutral terms as "parent" - untainted by any female. And the one female who is allowed in - although denied entry in Protestantism - is miraculously free from the taint of desire - even that of her parents. Forever virgin, she alone of all humanity from the Fall, was conceived without sin. Immaculately. This has to be true since how could the perfect son be born of any normal woman? That would be a cause of shame - for women possess and transmit that shame to their offspring. "The woman did give me and I did eat", Adam pleads in his own defence. So, it was not really his fault, was it? And it is, I think, this attempt to displace shame onto the woman that lies at the root of patriarchy. I would like to ask Adam, "well, did you enjoy the taste of that apple?" I suspect the answer would be "Yes".

For, yes, I enjoyed the sex that later triggered so much shame. I would not have done it otherwise. I enjoy sex and want to explore it for as long as my body desires it and there is someone willing to explore with me. I love the company of women and always have done.

Which brings me back to the childish fantasy I described yesterday. Would I have felt so much shame had it been a fantasy of conquest - enemies slain or scoring the winning try for Wales against England at Cardiff Arms Park? Of course not. For that, like the ambition of Alexander, is considered an appropriate fantasy for a boy. It is to be a man in a man's world. Somehow, this never really appealed to me. There was a deep irony in the fact that my natural inclinations towards poetry and love and the company of women led to accusations that I was gay. I am not. It is strange that my father's lifelong love of the company of men in the close physical contact of the rugby field and the subsequent communal bath did not lead to similar accusations.

Ah well, go figure. As they say. The world in which we live and the species of which we are part are full of paradox and wonder. For which I can only breathe a fervent "Thank Goddess". None fit into neat boxes - no categorisation can fully determine a human being. Original sin is a lie preached by those who are ashamed of their own vulnerability and desire. For desire makes us vulnerable. That is its beauty and its power. But original sin is a potent lie which adopts many guises and manifests in shame.

No one told us we are naked. For we all are. That is the wonder and the awe. We are naked in the face of the universe. And the goal is to be unashamed. To allow others to see us. To be vulnerable - for in our vulnerability is our strength. In this sense, our sense of shame can be a guide. For where we feel shame is the place of our power and it is through embracing and loving that place of shame that we can come to knowledge of our soul and our power.


sometimesfaithsometimesnot said...


You have been saying some beautiful things lately and it's a "shame" (pardon the pun) not to comment on them. But the most beautiful thing you've said thus far is this:
"No one told us we are naked. For we all are. That is the wonder and the awe. We are naked in the face of the universe. And the goal is to be unashamed. To allow others to see us. To be vulnerable - for in our vulnerability is our strength."

Hear, hear to that! Vulnerability is risky, but ultimately worth it.

Gaina said...

This gives me one of my 'If I ruled the world...' momments (haha).

If I ruled the world, the first things I would ban are guilt and shame and I would make it an offense for anyone to use those things to control another person. My take is, if your doing something with a consenting adult, then what you do is your business and no-one else's.

I absolutely refuse to feel shame or guilt about anything I do by anyone else's standards. I know what feels right in my own soul and what doesn't so I act accordingly. Anyone who has a problem with that is politely told to sod off....or just plain ignored while I quietly get on with my life. It's taken me most of my adult life to get to that point, but once you do it's incredibly liberating! Haha.

muzuzuzus said...

I recall, Alan Watts in one of his books, saying how St Augustine believed 'original sin' came about as result of Adam not being able to willingly control his erection, and susequently for him, and the rest of humanity, sexuality, designed by 'God', for procreation 'only', turned into lust! ;)

Reg said...

When confronting Adam about apple consumption, God's first thought is to make an equivalence between knowledge and a sense of shame.

Are we really being asked to believe that a super intelligence would feel such human prudery in the face of its own creation? I hope fundamentalists will excuse me, but this has to be nonsense.


Brian Charles said...

Thanks for all your comments. I am sorry to have taken so long to respond to them. It is really good to know that what I have to say can resonate with others.